All too often I find the fact that I sit in a comfortable and warm London office, reading, researching and writing about violent conflicts that are taking place “out there”, to be a strange and sometimes alienating experience. Not that I am unaware that violent conflict does in fact also exist and take place right outside my very own London doorstep, but quite honestly- I am hardly personally affected by it. I, in contrast to many other people in this city, live in a secure London. A warm London. A roof-over-my-head London. A London with enough food, with access to internet, university libraries and a gas meter that never just shuts down in the middle of the night. I feel safe in London.
I however spend my days reading about war, violence, conflict and suffering. And it affects me. But never has it had a greater impact than recently. 2 things happened: Mali & Jamaica.
I am from Niger and I lived in Burkina Faso for 5 years. Both those countries border Mali. When my mother was working for Save the Children in Burkina Faso she used to take me on work trips to Mali with her. I have been to the capital Bamako, I’ve seen the world famous Dogon country, Gao, Djenne and other places…
The picture above is of the famous mosque of that “mythical” but real place Timbouctou.
Due to a complex set of circumstances there is war in Mali now. This violent conflict has caused tens of thousands of refugees to flee the country and hundreds of thousands more to be internally displaced. The French intervened and thought they would be out in a matter of weeks. Months later, there is now talk of an American base to be established in my country Niger from which they are planning to start launching drones into Mali.
Together with a colleague of mine at the Oxford Research Group I wrote an op-ed piece on Mali that was published by Channel 4 News in 2 parts. You may read it here if you are interested in more details:
Needless to say, my family in Niger are concerned about their safety and the security situation in our country. Many people such as my father depend on the few tourists who come every year to experience the Sahara. Others are employed as drivers for local and international NGOs. At the moment however there are neither tourists nor are any foreign NGOs working outside of the capital Niamey.
If you google image Mali you will no longer see pictures of the beautiful desert.
Jamaica- another place of extreme beauty, another place I call my home, another place where daily violence is affecting the lives of thousands of people.
I just got back from spending 2 weeks in Kingston, Jamaica. I went to visit my husband and his family and to meet people and network as I hope to be moving there soon, perhaps by the beginning of next year.
I attended the University of the West Indies in Kingston for a semester in 2008 and have gone back fairly regularly since then. Jamaica to most will evoke Bob Marley, reggae music, beach, sun, Rastafari and rum. Do not get me wrong, it is of course all of the above. But it is also so much more.
Jamaica has a population of approximately 2.7 million and one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the world. it also has one of the world’s highest percentages of extra-judiciary police killings. The number of people killed by police has been going down. In the first 12 days of 2013 however, 18 Jamaicans died at the hands of law enforcement officers. The overall murder rate is also said to be decreasing. Last year (2012) 1,087 people were killed.
Ironically, although Jamaica has such a big problem of violent crime and so much work needs to be done, it is not important enough geo-politically for donor countries. Being a “middle income country” (which of course says nothing about income DISTRIBUTION) it is not prioritised and local as well as international NGOs working in the field of violence prevention find it difficult to get any funding for their projects.
Even the Quakers (There are 14 Quaker meetings in Jamaica) have no violence prevention program running in any Jamaican community at large. They only recently started a peace education programme in one Quaker school in the parish of Portland. the programme is being funded and run by Canadian Friends.
I met with some Friends of the Worthington Meeting House while I was in Kingston and although there is a great need for work to be done they confirmed to me that they do not have the funding to do it.
Both the situation in Mali as well as the reality of what I experience every time I go back to Jamaica saddens me deeply. However, I also feel like I have gained renewed strength. I see the importance of the work QPSW does and the great opportunity I have been offered by being a Peaceworker. I may not know where working at ORG in London is going to lead me to next and what exactly I will be doing in the years to come … I do however feel like I am on the right journey.